Although many healthcare groups have promised their help in reform, major players are hiring former congressional staff members and retired members of Congress as lobbyists in a campaign to block reform.
In a $1.4 million a day plan, the “The nation's largest insurers, hospitals and medical groups have hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress in hopes of influencing their old bosses and colleagues.”
Of note, former House Majority Leader Richard Armey and Richard A. Gephardt are now lobbying for a New Jersey pharmaceutical firm.
Many insiders formerly worked with lawmakers, such as Senators Max Baucus and Charles Grassley, on committees concerning whether or not a public insurance plan should be implemented--a policy opposed by the healthcare industry.
“The push has reunited many who worked together in government on health-care reform, but are now employed as advocates for pharmaceutical and insurance companies.”
Two former chiefs of staff to Senator Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, are David Castagnetti and Jeffrey A. Forbes. Both men, now lobbyists, collectively represent such clients as: PhRMA, Merck, Genetech, Amgen, and America’s Insurance Plans.
Castagnetti and Forbes were amongst those who attended a June 10 closed-door committee meeting between aides to the Senator and other healthcare lobbyists. Another attendee was Richard Tarplin, who previously worked with the Department of Health and Human Services and Senator Dodd, a leader in reform.
Currently, Mr. Tarplin heads Tarplin Strategies, a lobbying firm that represents the American Medical Association. Mr. Tarplin sees his role as a lobbyist as being important, because, as he states:
"For people like me who are on the outside and used to be on the inside, this is great, because there is a level of trust in these relationships, and I know the policy rationale that is required."
Refuting that, however, are those who work to protect the pubic interest. They are concerned that the revolving door between government and K Street has altered the healthcare debate.
“ ‘The revolving door offers a short cut to a member of Congress to the highest bidder,’" said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.”
A well-known example of the revolving door is Rep. Billy Tauzin, who, after being successful in moving the Medicare prescription bill through Congress, became the head of PhRMA--where he received a starting salary of $2.5 million a year. That appointment led Congress to pass a bill barring former members from such activities as, “bringing clients onto the House and Senate floors and from lobbying their friends in members-only gyms.” It also “forbade direct lobbying contacts with former colleagues for a year in the House and two years in the Senate.”
Mr. Tauzin argues, however, that it’s not unusual that experienced individuals get the job. As he puts it:
"Is it a distortion of baseball to hire coaches who have played baseball? Is it a distortion of universities to hire from academia?"
"The bottom line is that people work in the fields in which they have experience. Somehow there are people who think that's unusual for politics, but I think it's pretty normal."
I guess so. But we are not playing baseball or looking for the best teachers. We are not looking for more conflicts of interest. We are looking for and need to trust in someone who will watch over us.
What is your opinion of former employees of Congress working as lobbyists for the healthcare industry?
If you find that policy unhealthy, what should we do about it?
For the full article, please see: Former Lawmakers and Congressional Staffers Hired to Lobby on Health Care - washingtonpost.com by Dan Eggen and Kimberly Kindy , July 6, 2009